Race on Both Sides of the Razor


  • Terence D. Keel




The proliferation of studies declaring that there is a genetic basis to health disparities and behavioral differences across the so-called races has encouraged the opponents of social constructionism to assert a victory for scientific progress over political correctness. I am not concerned in this essay with providing a response to critics who believe races are expressions of innate genetic or biological differences. Instead, I am interested in how genetic research on human differences has divided social constructionists over whether the race concept in science can be used for social justice and redressing embodied forms of discrimination. On one side, there is the position that race is an inherently flawed concept and that its continued use by scientists, medical professionals, and even social activists keeps alive the notion that it has a biological basis. On the other side of this debate are those who maintain a social constructionist position yet argue that not all instances of race in science stem from discriminatory politics or the desire to prove that humans belong to discrete biological units that can then be classified as superior or inferior. I would like to shift this debate away from the question of whether race is real and move instead toward thinking about the intellectual commitments necessary for science to expose past legacies of discrimination.